The Mercedes-Benz Vito is the entry point to the hallowed Three-Pointed Star brand’s commercial vehicle range in Australia, in lieu of the Renault Kangoo-based Citan not sold here for safety reasons.
While not as widely known as the larger Sprinter – aka the majority of ambulances in Australia, fleet customers not known for being easy on vehicles – the Vito makes its own strong case for someone wanting a more compact load-lugger.
Most importantly, despite the premium branding, the Mercedes-Benz Vito 111 CDI is actually very competitively priced. Sure, it doesn’t come close to the Chinese LDV G10, but the Mercedes’ entry point of $36,990 (drive-away, too) matches or beats its mainstream rivals.
Yet this year Benz’s van unit has only sold about 1000 Vitos here, behind the Ford Transit Custom (1299 sales YTD, priced from $39,690), Volkswagen Transporter (1677, from $38,390, or $35K in Runner spec) and Renault Trafic (1695, from $34,990) Euro rivals.
Sales of the similarly priced but more powerful Hyundai iLoad and the battle-weary Toyota HiAce (code for ‘uncomfortable old warhorse trading on reputation’) are five- and six-times greater respectively. Commercial and fleet buyers are understandably creatures of habit.
As flagged earlier, here we’re testing the absolute entry point to the Vito line-up, the 111 CDI, priced to go at $36,990 or a very appetising $98 per week through Mercedes’ financial division, based on a 60-month loan with $5000 deposit and 20,000km annual distance ceiling.
Surely, you ask yourself, the entry point to this van range must be an underpowered and poorly specified shitbox, right? Clearly an exercise in luring buyers to walk up to the ones with bigger engines and more equipment? Actually, not at all.
Donating its engine to the Mercedes-Benz Vito 111 CDI is global partner Renault, Europe's number-one van-maker by sales. The German and French brands co-developed the Smart/Twingo, for just one other example of their diverse collaboration.
It’s an uptuned Euro 5, 1.6-litre single-turbo diesel making a modest 84kW of power from 3800rpm and 270Nm of torque (the more important measure of a commercial engine) from not a heap above idle.
Like the Renault, it only comes with a six-speed manual gearbox and front-wheel drive (FWD), meaning anyone keen on an auto will need to upgrade to the $43,000-plus 100kW/330Nm 2.1-litre 114 diesel on AdBlue, with its seven-speed auto ’box and bonus of rear-wheel drive (RWD). Or the even more powerful/expensive 116 and 119 CDIs.
But if you’re happy with FWD and shifting your own gears, the 111 CDI’s engine is a ripper. Not much power, but it’s willing and eager, and the tall high ratios ensure relaxed cruising for highway trips – particularly if you’ve got some racking and tools in there and aren’t nudging the (excellent) 1285kg payload maximum.
Towing capacity is 2000kg with a braked trailer and GVM is 3050kg, which just shades the Transporter. Claimed combined-cycle fuel use is 6.2L/100km, though on our urban run with a 400kg load we averaged about 8.5L/100km. Still good. The fuel tank is 70L.
The manual ’box is also great, with a light clutch and ideal take-up point, and decisive shift pattern. Plus, the engine’s low-down torque means you can take off and idle-run through town in second without a drama. Forget the figures, just have a drive.
Also helping the Vito’s excellent driving feel in its metropolitan habitat is the low-resistance electromechanical steering – though the 12.9m turning circle is nothing to write home about – and the absolutely outstanding suspension that softens corrugated roads and settles the body quickly after big hits, even when unladen.
The gutsy little engine, slick gearbox, light steering, and class-leading ride and handling balance ought to be massive selling points. Here, Mercedes shows its premium credentials, with a little Gallic help.
For some loading specs, the short-wheelbase (SWB) here is 4900m long, 2240mm wide including mirrors and a shade under 2m tall with rails. There’s 1270mm between the arches and a loading length of almost 2.6m, until you add the requisite cargo barrier, either a Daimler unit or something from the aftermarket.
A LWB body can be had with the 111 CDI engine, or above, for another $3000, growing the wheelbase from 3.2m to 3430mm and increasing the overall loading length to about three metres.
The SWB as tested comprises dual sliding side doors (unlike some rivals) and a tailgate, though if you work with forkies you can option barn doors that open 270 degrees for $715. On this note, OEM roof rails cost $500, and a recommended bulkhead with window to improve NVH suppression and offer protection costs $590.
The cabin offers an excellent driving position and ergonomics, with ample seat and steering wheel adjustments, a high driving position and intuitive switchgear including some taken right from Mercedes' luxury car and SUV range, adding some glamour (looking at you, window switches and cruise control stalk...). Only the foot-operated parking brake is a pain.
The build quality is also absolutely top-notch, with tough and hard plastics made to last and screwed together without flaw, and easy-to-clean vinyl floors. It'll look new in 10 years if you take care of it. Certainly wins over a Trafic or Transit Custom.
The instrument fascia is a mess of buttons, but if you're a tradie with dirty hands, a touchscreen isn't always ideal. Likewise, the infotainment is basic, but our smartphone re-paired to the Bluetooth audio and call functions the second we turned the key. It's basic but bug-free.
Standard fare includes that very basic 5.8-inch screen with USB/SD/Bluetooth inputs, 16-inch steel wheels, electric windows, air-conditioning, steering wheel buttons, cruise control, a crosswind assist in the ESC and a prompting to encourage tired drivers to pull over by displaying a little icon of a cuppa. Twee.
Yet there are some important features missing. A rear-view camera costs $900, or $1700 when bundled with sensors and a graphical display. At least Mercedes saw the light and made side airbags standard fit a while back. The Vito launched with them as a $700 option, but now you get them no matter what.
The particularly safety conscious – or those wanting to give their driver staff the best – may also opt for a Driving Assistant Package ($1600) that adds blind-spot monitoring, collision warning and lane-departure warning.
From an ownership perspective, Mercedes-Benz offers a three-year or 200,000km warranty inclusive of a 24/7 roadside assist policy. Service intervals are long at 25,000km or 12 months.
You can also buy various levels of service plans contingent on level of cover and distance driven, kicking off at $10 a week for basic cover. Chat to your dealer for specifics or read here for a brochure.
All told, the base Vito 111 CDI is a surprisingly affordable van, with bulletproof cabin quality, fantastically comfortable ride quality, a willing little engine borrowed from a French ally, and a desirable badge, which counts even in the van market.
Downsides? We don't mind a manual, but if you want an auto you need to get the Vito with a bigger engine and RWD to get it, and that's going to cost you about $10,000 more.
Nevertheless, don't think that the fact it's a Benz precludes it from being a price-point rival to the Renaults and Volkswagens of the world. It's a great buy, if you spec yours right.
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